A Travellerspoint blog

Panama Canal lives up to the hype

Panama City

sunny 30 °C

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Panama City was great fun, once we got to Casco Viejo. People kept telling us it wasn't the best place to be so we spent our first night in what looked like the business district on recommendations, we got online and booked ourselves a hostel in the old part of town. Yeah, it's a bit touristy, but guess what, we're tourists! The buildings were beautiful and we had some fun hanging out with the other backpackers.
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We headed out to the nearby national park on the second day to get some jungle and see what we could see. We had a great day hiking along and seeing lots of birds, as well as some RUS (that's Rodents of Unusual Size, for those who aren't Princess Bride fans). The next day we headed out to the Panama Canal. It was pretty amazing. We went to Miraflores lock and though a little on the pricey side, it was worth it. We watched the cheesy 3D movie and then went through the much more informative and quite cool museum about the canal. Finally, we watched a huge container ship pass through the lock, water rising and falling, huge gates opening and closing. It's pretty incredible really.
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On our last day in Panama City we caved and bought our Panama Hats (remember that bit about being tourists, sometimes you've just got to fall into it). We love them and have been wearing them proudly ever since, enough said.

Posted by Addy21 05:27 Archived in Panama Comments (1)

Lima and onto Central America

Not really a fan of Peru's capital

From Cusco we took one of our long busrides down to Lima. From the outset we didn't have a great experience with some taxi drivers getting a bit nasty when we didn't want to pay their outrageous prices to get into the centre from the bus stop. We struggled to find reasonably priced accomodation as well and generally just didn't get a great vibe from the city itself. It had some nice sites and a pretty cool museum, but we were happy to move on. Lima, was also where we decided to skip Iquitos (a town in Peru near the Amazon and only accessible by river), and get some incredibly cheap flights out of Ecuador to Panama City instead. It was a tough call in some ways, but it gave us over 20 extra days in Central America and saved us quite a lot (these flights were incredible) and after feeling a bit pushed and stretched in South America we wanted to make sure we had time to take it a bit slower. So we jumped another long bus (actually 2) to Guayaquil and after a few quiet days hopped our flight to Panama.

I have no photos of Lima and while Matt took some they are on his hard drive which got corrupted in Mexico (more about that later), so may be a while before we can recover them.

Posted by Addy21 05:24 Comments (1)

The Inca Trail

Oh god not another hill....

all seasons in one day

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The Inca trail kicked off for us at 5am when we got picked up from our hotel and headed off to Ollantaytambo where we stopped for breakfast and last minute supplies and finally down the road to the official starting point. Our guide was great and had our group of 7 (and our 9 porters) ready to go in no time. After the inevitable waiting around for the official checks we were off.
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The first day was pretty easy as a whole, we only hiked for around 5 hours, with no particularly steep sections. Overall, it was pretty fun, we had a really nice group of 3 French Canadians, a french guy, and another Aussie. It started drizzling in the last half hour of so of our little hike, which turned out to be another easy precursor to what we about to do over the next 4 days. We arrived to set up tents and popcorn and hot chocolate (we were already liking this a lot more than the W trail). We had a tasty dinner and got to know each other a little better then turned in for an early night.
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Day 2, had us up at 5:30am and packed and ready for breakfast by 6am. That said, being woken up nicely with a cup of tea, and asked very kindly to be ready for a lovely cooked breakfast in half an hour, makes 5:30am a much more civilized time to get up. This was the tough day, we had to get over the ¨Dead woman´s pass¨4200m above sea level and back it up by going over the next highest pass on the trail at 3600m above sea level. The day started out a little drizzly but it cleared up and we had pretty good weather to tackle the Dead Woman´s Pass. Matt flew up the mountain, but I was struggling. I had to stop every 20m or so to catch my breath, I´ve officially decided I'm not cut out for altitude. Matt waited for me though and we made it to the top together. It was an amazing sense of achievement, everyone clapped as you made it to the top and our guide popped a bottle of champagne for us to share while we all hugged it out. It was surprisingly emotional and really elating to look out over the valley and realise how high we'd just climbed. But we were yet to make it, we still had to head down into the next valley and then over the next pass. Unfortunately, it started raining in earnest just as we started our second climb of the day and we all just put our heads down and went at our own pace to get through.
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Thankfully the rain stopped again before we reached camp and we did our best to dry out (which turned out to be impossible for the rest of the hike) and enjoyed being pampered by our cook and porters (who I should add did everything we just did, faster, and with 20-25 kilos on their backs, they're just amazing).
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Day three was positively civilized. We were woken up at around 6am (I think) and after breakfast finally did our proper introductions to the porters (several who were over 50 and a couple who were just starting out and were only 18). We'd been stopping at various Inca sites along the trail and day three's were the best of the lot. Unfortunately, it decided to rain quite heavily at different points, which meant we didn't spend as much time checking out some of the ruins as we might otherwise have liked, but overall it was pretty cool. We made camp by about 3pm and then after a rest headed out to check out Winay Wayna, with beautiful terraces descending into the valley and some of the best preserved structures we'd seen yet.
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Day 4 is all about Machu Picchu. We woke up at 3:30am (not even tea makes that time civilized) and joined our place in the queue to wait for the rangers to open the gates. That's right you can't actually get onto the final seciton of the trail until 5am, so why drag us out of bed so early? Good question. Apparently it's so the porter's can get the 5:30am train back down to Ollantaytambo. Though I still can't figure out why the train has to be so early. Anyway, after sitting in the cold and dark for over an hour we were finally let through and formed part of the approx 300 people long single file line snaking its way up to the sungate. It started to lighten up as it got closer to 6am and was properly morning by the time we made our way up the final (very steep) steps to the sun gate to see.... white. The whole area was covered in clouds and we couldn't see another further than a few hundred metres. We weren't dishearented though, because we would get a better view of Machu Picchu as we got down a bit closer. I was crushed to find that the view didn't improve as we made our way down, even when we made it down to Machu Picchu clouds kept getting in the way of any photos. Matt picked me back up again, and after a guided tour of Machu Picchu we made the hike back up the hill to get the photos we couldn't get that morning. We were completely buggered though so we didn't go all the way back up to the sun gate, just far enough to get photos like these...
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We made our way down to Aguas Calientes for lunch and then wiled away the afternoon soaking in the hotsprings, which felt incredibly after 4 days hiking with no showers. We met back up with our little group for a final farewell drink before hopping the train back to Ollantaytambo and then our minibus back to Cusco. We arrived back around 10:30am and were never so grateful to slide into bed.

Posted by Addy21 04:57 Archived in Peru Comments (1)

Cusco

sunny 24 °C

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Cusco has to be the nicest city we've visited so far. Originally a seat of Incan power and then early Spanish colonial power, it is full of gorgeous buildings and about 12 churches (2 of which were trying to outdo each other in grandeur until the Pope put a stop to it). Unfortunately, we only got in 1 1/2 days of wandering around and getting our bearings before Matt got food poisoning which had him feeling pretty miserable for 3 days, though he rallied as best he could to do a couple of things.
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Thankfully, we had plenty of time in Cusco, and once Matt was feeling better, headed out to see nearby Incan ruins including baths, forts and ceremonial sites. We also did a day tour (same price as the public transport) around the sacred valley. Pisac was beautiful but the highlight was Ollantaytambo and then stopping off at a local textiles house, where, apart from trying to sell us stuff, they demonstrated how they made the natural dyes. It was pretty amazing.
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We spent the rest of our time checking out Cusco itself and going to a couple of church services so we could see the insides without paying the exhorbitant entry fees for tourists. It was quite interesting seeing the differences in the services, and overall a lovely way to see the churches and get a proper feel for them. The amount of gold and artwork was incredible. Most of the European Cathedrals wouldn't even get close to matching them.

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Posted by Addy21 04:18 Archived in Peru Comments (1)

Sun, wine and more sea lions

South Coast of Peru (and our aborted attempt to hike the Colca Canyon)

sunny 31 °C

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After what feels like 3 days on buses (crossing into Peru at Puno, heading off to Arequipa, then on to Cabanaconde (where we wanted to trek into the Colca Canyon), then immediately back on the bus back to Arequipa) we arrived at Nazca.  You see we got ambushed by a surprise tax. Not a good surprise. The moment we got off the bus in Cabanaconde they tried to charge us 70 soles just for the privilege of entering the Colca Valley, which by this stage we'd already done. A bit cranky and with no ATM or enough cash to pay the tax and actually do the trek, we told them we wouldn't be paying anything and got straight back on the return bus to Arequippa. We did get some lovely views of the canyon on our two bus rides, but overall were a bit frustrated that no one thought to mention this bizarre tax before we actually arrived in the town!

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From Arequippa we headed on to Nazca and put the Colca Canyon behind us. Nazca was really all about the Nazca Lines, which are pretty incredible when you think the people who created them couldn't actually ever see their finished product properly. The plane was small and bumpy, and soon had me puking my guts up. I did get to see the majority of the images though. Think wow, monkey, bleugh, oh hummingbird, bleugh, ok missed that... bleugh. You get the point. Even feeling as rotten as I did, they were incredible though. We also checked out some nearby Nazca ruins and aquaduct system that brought water down from the nearby mountains into the desert. Pretty clever stuff really.

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We headed to Pisco after that and as well as trying a few Pisco sours did a pretty amazing boat trip out to the Ballestas Islands, which have huge amounts of bird life as well as substantial sea lion colonies. We saw baby sea lions which were adorable and tried to imagine the islands 30 metres higher than today due to bird droppings, which are now collected and exported. The bird colonies were enormous! Whole sections of the islands were just covered in a mass of black squawking bodies.

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After Pisco, we headed to Ica, to complete our South Coast tour. We did a great little winery tour resulting in the purchase of a very nice bottle and went out to the nearby Huagachina oasis. The Oasis was pretty cool but the real highlight was the view from top of the sand dunes and the fact that I won our race to climb it! Yeah!!

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Posted by Addy21 14:44 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

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